March 28, 2016
By Arthur H. Gunther III
Why is “The Donald” popular? This one sentence tells us why. When the media, and that includes some of my colleagues, enables a showman, a magician, an entertainer, then the person becomes all of that and more so. Trump, the likely Republican Party presidential candidate for God’s sake, was re-crafted by the tabloids and supermarket sheets and then the big boys. Lights, camera, action. All the while, as momentum has built, few have asked “Why this man?”
“The Donald,” not long ago a casino operator, a TV reality host, a New York City commercial deal maker, a “I think I can, I think I can” fellow, greatly boosts media rankings and fills the cash bucket. One hundred serious running mates with earned credentials, concrete proposals and solutions for a nation lost because the lights went out long ago in D.C., could not have gotten press attention. It’s far more sound-bite interesting to focus on an unusual hair style than on who can best handle the red nuclear button.
Where are the journalistic questions for The Donald? This man, certainly savvy in the art of the deal, expected interrogation. Who runs for the highest political office in the land, the world, without being asked “why?” But as soon as the media turned the strobes and videographer lights on Trump and left shadows on the other candidates, The Donald knew he didn’t have to answer anything. Instead, throw out the citizen protester, put the light on him, and make the crowd cheer. And the questions go unanswered.
The media has not been serious, not often enough anyway. Not deeply enough. Not in enough credible newspapers still being published. Not on TV news programs that are no longer Walter Cronkite but are entertainment shows.
Instead, a few serious questions pop up on Facebook, Twitter, in other social media, but also the inane. Short words, short sentences, word bites where once there was thoughtful treatise. The Donald answers in like kind, say in reference to a candidate’s wife: “I’ll spill the beans (on her).” In the time it took to write that sentence, how many more middle-class jobs were lost? How many more foreclosures? How much more lead in the water? How many millions donated in hidden political contribution for favors yet to be paid?
The Donald gets free publicity, billions from media fascinated by entertainment, not substance. He didn’t have to spend a dime. Could Abe Lincoln compete with Trump?
Every showman from P.T. Barnum on, and that includes the devil’s own like Hitler, knew that you tell the people just so much. You hit the emotional buttons: “The present government is failing you.” (How? why? when? No details.) “There is no national pride. No chicken in most pots. Law and disorder. Those immigrants are taking your soup, your future. The shiftless are wasting your taxes.” Just enough “fact,” and that distorted, is offered. The crowd, with the best seats for the faithful, begin their chant. “Yes, yes, yes!” And the showman raises his hands and implores, “I can’t hear you! Blow the ceiling off!” So the crowd has its orgasm, but the new “leader” leaves the most satisfied.
It’s an old routine, but it’s not slapstick vaudeville. It is the race for the presidency of the most influential nation in the world, a country that is supposed to be a continuing experiment in democracy, one that constantly is to recognize its faults, its prejudices, its inequality, and the people then move to correct, to educate themselves, to mature further.
The Donald wants to halt the train, clear the tracks of what only he will decide as undesirable and then move on to the station. But who will be chosen to go with him? And will there be enough gold plumbing for all?
This all sounds like a bad movie. Title it “The Donald.”
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org This essay may be reproduced.